Not long ago, you could walk into a major hotel or restaurant chain anywhere around the world and you wouldn’t know if you were in New York or New Delhi. Consistency in the look and feel of properties was considered essential to a successful brand strategy—and it worked for a while.
“There was a time in the ’80s and ’90s when larger hotel brands felt having a homogenous product gave the consumer a sense of security, and this established expectation worked in favor of the larger branded properties,” explains Giana DiLeonardo, partner at design firm DiLeonardo International, Providence, R.I.
Marriott is a great example of a hotel brand that embodied this cookie-cutter approach, according to Barbara Parker, owner of Parker-Torres Design Inc., Sudbury, Mass. “The original sort of homogenization of the design aesthetic was because Mr. Marriott felt like you should feel at home and it should feel familiar no matter where you were. That’s why all their hotels looked the same.”
DiLeonardo notes hotel guests today rely more on the level of service for the consistency they expect, which gives design “the freedom to celebrate the unique and exceptional qualities of a certain place.” The change in the hospitality industry happened in large part because of the disruption of the market by the boutique hotel trend of the 2000s, she says, as well as the further segmenting of the market. In the case of Marriott, its merger with Starwood in 2018 signaled the shift in its approach to become more design-oriented.
This trend favoring local geographic and cultural influences in place of standardization is happening in the design of not only hotels and restaurants, but also corporate offices and retail locations. It’s not that corporate branding is being done away with—far from it. Rather, organizations are repositioning their properties to create destinations where people want to spend their time, strengthening the brand by forging stronger connections with their communities.
What else is behind the localization trend? How can design professionals and building owners ensure their properties thoughtfully reflect local influences? And why is it important? For the answers to these and other questions, read on.
Social Media, Expectations Are Driving Change
As noted earlier, the hospitality industry began moving toward more localized design in response to market segmentation and the success of smaller, boutique hotels entering the market. Across the board, however, people today are looking for authentic experiences, DiLeonardo remarks, and they want to share them through social media channels.
“Travelers today are exposed visually to so much through social media, and the expectations of unique moments and new discoveries has been elevated,” she says. “Online reviews and ‘Instagrammable’ moments can drive revenue, and this is where designers play a key role on the return of investment.”
Parker agrees and notes when people travel to a place they want to experience the destination they’re in and share it with others. “I don’t want to be in a Boston-area hotel that feels like it could be anywhere in the world,” she explains. “When guests are traveling, they want to post their special event or the highlight of their trip, and they want to have that fabulous backdrop that lets everyone in the world know ‘I’m here in Phoenix.’”
Bryan Kent, business unit leader for national contractor DPR Construction, adds people’s expectations have changed and younger travelers, in particular, are looking for intriguing destinations. “That’s what people want. They’re looking to go stay somewhere hip and cool,” he says.
Beyond the cool factor, Kent adds many hotel properties and offices alike are seeking to separate themselves from the competition and provide spaces that differentiate them from the business down the street—whether it’s to spend a night or sign a long-term lease in an office building.
“From a branding perspective, many companies are using this as an opportunity to do something that isn’t really expensive, makes their product stand out and tells a story more than,‘It’s just another office building or just some other hotel room’,” he states. “[Localization] makes it feel different, and that story is what gets spread around.”